Second Ward, Minneapolis

This is the public policy forum of Minneapolis Second Ward (Green) City Council Member Cam Gordon and his staff. We use this space to talk about some of what Cam’s working on, explain his positions, and share a little of what life in City Hall is like. Please feel free to comment on posts, within certain ground rules. See our disclaimer, including ground rules, here:

Friday, December 22, 2006

CRA Subpoena Power

Months ago, the Civilian Review Authority (CRA) Work Group recommended that the City put
subpoena power for the CRA on our Legislative Agenda.

The purpose is to increase the quality of CRA investigations by giving them more access to information. City staff, including police officers, are already required to participate with CRA investigators, but there is obviously information concerning alleged incidents of police misconduct outside the City's enterprise: surveillance tapes, witnesses, documents, etc.

There was some back and forth in the group about how broad our request for subpoena power should be. Should we ask for full powers, like the EEOC, Civil Rights Commission and others use, or should we ask for a narrower, limited power to subpoena just documents and not witnesses?

At first, the Police Federation said they would fight us at the legislature if we asked for full subpoena power, but might not fight us if we asked for the narrower version. Partly for this reason, the subpoena power subcommittee of the Work Group recommended the limited version. Later, the Federation clarified that they would fight us no matter what. The Work Group then voted nearly unanimously (with only the Federation representative voting against) to ask the Legislature for full subpoena power.

That is how the proposed request remained on the proposed 2007 Legislative Agenda until this past Tuesday, when Council Member Ostrow successfully moved to narrow the focus again.

Today, I moved to return the language in the Legislative Agenda to the full, broad subpoena power the Work Group supported. The power to get documents from outside organizations is important, but the power to compel witnesses to participate with our investigators would also be immensely helpful. I requested that CRA staff let me know if there have been specific incidents that full subpoena power would have helped us investigate. The short answer is yes. Some examples:

  • Several months ago, police responded to a wrecker service company that does a significant amount of business with the city. Cameras on the premises recorded the incident and a company employee witnessed the incident. A CRA investigator contacted the company to retrieve the video; the company informed the investigator that the video had been re-recorded. Since the video was no longer available, the investigator left several message for the employee who witnessed the incident to call the investigator; however, the employee has not returned any of the investigators calls.
  • A while back, a complainant alleged that police had goaded him into a foot chase, and then, upon capturing him, had beat him severely, causing him to lose a lot of blood. The incident occurred on the private property of an office building, and two of the building’s private security guards had witnessed the capture and had actually helped the police take the complainant into custody. The property manager refused to allow the CRA investigator to interview the guards, and refused to provide the investigator with a copy of the guard’s report. The guard’s testimony was very critical to the determination of the case.
  • Quite often, the Minneapolis police assist the Minneapolis Park Police and police officers from other jurisdictions. Joint police operations range from simple arrest on and transport from city parks to warrant searches. The CRA lacks the ability to compel the Minneapolis Park Police and other police departments to provide their officers reports involving alleged incidents of police misconduct.

These support my belief that the power to subpoena witnesses would significantly improve CRA investigations.

The counterargument from CMs Ostrow and Hodges was that a) subpoenaing witnesses is not likely to be fruitful, as they will be 'uncooperative' and b) if we ask for full subpoena power, the Legislature is less likely to give us anything at all.

I disagree with both of these points. As in the example above, sometimes all a witness needs is an excuse to give their employer - hey, I didn't want to but they subpoenaed me, so what choice did I have? As to the second argument, I am not opposed to compromise, and would be happy to see the Legislature allow the narrower version if that's all we can get. But I am not convinced that's all we can get, and the assertion that we get more by asking for less doesn't make sense to me.

My motion to amend failed 8-5 (CMs Gordon, Lilligren, Glidden, Schiff, and Remington voting yes and CMs Ostrow, hofstede, Johnson, Samuels, Goodman, Benson, Colvin Roy and Hodges voting no).


At 12:33 PM, Blogger Peter Fleck said...

Cam, thanks for trying to get full subpoena powers for the CRA. I fully support your amemdment and the reasoning behind it: ask for the moon and then scale back in compromise. Now the City is already scaled back so compromises will get the CRA even less.

Is the issue dead or can it be raised later?

At 2:40 PM, Blogger Cam Gordon said...

Thanks Peter,

I would said that it not dead, nearly, at least for now. We will have to see if the state legislature even takes the issue up. If they do that will be a time to make our arguments again.

Also, if the time looks right and there seems to be more support for this, I can always try to bring it up again. Themost likely time would be next year when the legislative agenda comes up again.


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